Monday, 11 April 2011

Why aren't Germans on Facebook?

I stumbled across an interesting project the other day, mapping out the penetration of Facebook in different countries around the world. It's amazing to see how something that just a few years ago was a small networking site for college students has become a worldwide force which has signed up more than half the population in several developed countries.

In Europe the geographic trend is pretty clear to see – Northern Europeans are the most likely to be on Facebook, which Eastern Europeans are the least likely. Iceland has the highest level of Facebook penetration, with 59% of its population signed up to the site. The UK and Denmark are tied for second place, each with 45% of their population signed up. This is more than in the homeland of Facebook – 42% of Americans have a profile on the site.

The lowest level of Facebook usage within the EU is in Latvia, with just 6% of people using the site. Next is Poland with 8%. And in third to last place comes, hang on – Germany? It's true, only 13% of Germans have a profile on Facebook.

The German example appears to buck the trend of the wealthier and more internet-connected countries having the highest levels of Facebook usage. But the Germans have their own wildly popular social networking site, StudiVZ. I had heard before that this was the most popular social networking site in Germany, but I had assumed people used it in addition to Facebook. After all use of the site is limited to university students, just as Facebook was before 2006.

So why hasn't Facebook been able to replace StudiVZ, as it replaced Bebo in the UK or other homegrown sites in Scandinavia? If anyone has any ideas I'd really like to know! I'd also like to know what's going on next door in the Netherlands, where only 16% of people have a profile on Facebook. This I find really shocking, considering Holland's close cultural ties to the United States. It seems especially bizarre considering that neighbouring Belgium has one of the highest rates of people on Facebook, with twice as many people signed up as in the Netherlands (33%).

The internets tell me that something called Hyves is the most popular social networking site in the Netherlands. But looking at the site, I don't see how this can be a replacement for Facebook – it's nothing like it. So, to my Dutch readers I ask the same question – what's going on!?

Southern Europe seems to be pretty consistent with its Facebook percentages, with all countries having a penetration around 25%. Turkey has a noticeably high percentage of users, particularly compared to its Middle Eastern neighbours. I also note that Estonia's 18% seems rather small given that that "e-country" is always bragging about how internet-connected it is (universal wifi and they vote in national elections online!).

Of course this could all be a simple question of business decisions – which markets the Facebook execs have decided to invest the most in for promotion. But I suspect this may not be the case because Facebook has spread throughout the world organically. I can't remember ever seeing an 'ad' for Facebook anywhere in Europe, but it's now referenced in the media constantly. Right now in Belgium there's an ad campaign in the metro advertising mobile data plans with tongue-in-cheek references to Facebook. Things like"Saying 'I like' before anyone else on Facebook - that's friendship".

And when Facebook gets mentioned in ads for other products, you know they don't have to spend a lot of time or money on self-promotion! So what is it about some populations - Germany for example - that have made them so Facebook-resistant? And why have others so eaily fallen prey? It's fascinating really!


Anonymous said...

Holland has

Brad Zimmerman said...

A lot of Poles use ( In 2009 NK claimed they had 13.5 million Polish users which would be about 35 percent of the population of Poland.

I see that our neighbors to the south, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have ~25-28 percent of their populations on FB. I wonder if there were no serious home-grown alternatives before FB came along?

Anonymous said...

Maybe some Europeans are not impressed by Facebook's constant attempts to subvert privacy restrictions.

André said...

StudiVZ used to be very popular in Germany (and also "meinVZ" that was created for non-students later), but my impression is that this is rapidly decreasing. Most people with international contacts had both for a time before they quit studivz. Now even those without a lot of international contacts get on Facebook. In my view the figures you have seen are about to change

Anonymous said...

In Germany it is definitely a privacy issue. The cabinet minister responsible for customer protection picked a public fight with Facebook and cancelled her account, again making all of this public.

StudiVZ is for university students only, that is right, but the company also runs MeinVZ which is for everybody. And it is a German company that has to adhere to German privacy regulation. Facebook has simply ignored the German rules, which causes suspicion in many Germans. They (we) don't like intrusive companies such as Facebook

Anonymous said...

The post is already pretty old but I just came across and thought I could describe the development in Germany as I perceived it:
I opened my account at StudieVZ in 2006, a time when some pepole already had an account. the whole thing really took of maybe 2007 or 2008 when it was as natural to have a StudieVZ account as it is today with facebook. by that time (2008) facebook started to enter the German market and more and more people started to also open an facebook account. the reason was clearly the opportunity to keep in contacct with foreign people! StudieVZ, which was by the way not exclusively for students, did not offer that! By 2009 or latest 2010, STudieVZ was virtually dead, although a lot of people kept their accounts. But nobody was using it anymore, everything was by then done via facebook. I cannot explain why the numbers are so low, but maybe it has to do with the age composition of the society: given older people are less likely to use facebook, Germany will have a lower rate of users just because we are older (4th old by median age). Hope that helps, although coming probably to late...